Archive for the ‘markets’ Category
Antitrust is one of the classic topics in economic sociology. Fligstein’s The Transformation of Corporate Control and Dobbin’s Forging Industrial Policy both dealt with how the rules that govern economic life are created. But with some exceptions, it hasn’t received a lot of attention in the last decade in econ soc.
In fact, antitrust hasn’t been on the public radar that much at all. After the Microsoft case was settled in 2001, antitrust policy just hasn’t thrown up a lot of issues that have gotten wide public attention, beyond maybe griping about airline mergers.
But in the last year or so, it seems like popular interest in antitrust is starting to bubble up again.
Just in the last few months, there have been several widely circulated pieces on antitrust policy. Washington Monthly, the Atlantic, ProPublica (twice), the American Prospect—all these have criticized existing antitrust policy and argued for strengthening it.
This is timely for me, because I’ve also been studying antitrust. As a policy domain that is both heavily technocratic and heavily influenced by economists, it’s a great place to think about the role of economics in public policy.
Yesterday I put a draft paper up on SocArXiv on the changing role of economics in antitrust policy. The 1970s saw a big reversal in antitrust, when we went from a regime that was highly skeptical of mergers and all sorts of restraints on trade to one that saw them as generally efficiency-promoting and beneficial for consumers. At the same time, the influence of economics in antitrust policy increased dramatically.
But while these two development are definitely related—there was a close affinity between the Chicago School and the relaxed antitrust policy of the Reagan administration, for example—there’s no simple relationship here: economists’ influence began to increase at a time when they were more favorable to antitrust intervention, and after the 1980s most economists rejected the strongest Chicago arguments.
I might write about the sociology part of the paper later, but in this post I just want to touch on the question of what this history implies about the present moment and the possibility of change in antitrust policy.
cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France – abstracts due Feb. 17, 2017 (updated)
Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France. Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!). Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion. Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!
Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives
Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.
Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive. The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system. Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.
Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:
- What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
- How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
- How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
- How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
- What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
- Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?
Graeber, David. 2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.
Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.
Here is info about the mini-conference format:
Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.
More info about mini-conferences here.
The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.
More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?”
Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!
state of the field article on field theory in non-profit organizations, by Emily Barman, now available
We’re at the halfway mark in July. Looking for summer reading that covers the latest sociological theories in non-profit research? Emily Barman has a “state of the field” article on the use of field theory in the non-profit organizations literature in the Organizations and Work section of Sociology Compass.
Here’s the abstract for her article “Varieties of Field Theory and the Sociology of the Non-profit Sector:”
This paper reviews the use of field theory in the sociological study of the non-profit sector. The review first shows how field theory, as a conceptual framework to explain social action, provides a valuable sociological counterweight to prevailing economic and psychological orientations in the interdisciplinary scholarship on the non-profit sector. However, despite its certain shared assumptions, field theory in sociology encompasses three distinct, albeit interrelated, approaches: the Bourdieusian, New Institutionalist, and Strategic Action Fields perspectives. I comparatively outline the key analytical assumptions and causal claims of each version of field theory, whether and how it recognizes the specificity of the non-profit sector and then delineate its application by sociologists to the non-profit sector. I show how scholars’ employment of each articulation of field theory to study non-profit activity has been influenced by pre-existing scholarly assumptions and normative claims about this third space. The article concludes by summarizing the use of these varieties of field theory in the sociology of the non-profit sector and by identifying future directions in this line of research.
Also, Emily has a new book available, titled Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value (2016, Cambridge University Press)! Check out the book blurb here.
There is a new paper in PLoS One by Daniel Silver, Monica Lee, and C. Clayton Childress about the structure of genres. They use MySpace co-mentioning data to understand which genres are mentioned together, which maps out the space of pop music in the mid-2000s. From the abstract of “Genre Complexes in Popular Music:”
Recent work in the sociology of music suggests a declining importance of genre categories. Yet other work in this research stream and in the sociology of classification argues for the continued prevalence of genres as a meaningful tool through which creators, critics and consumers focus their attention in the topology of available works. Building from work in the study of categories and categorization we examine how boundary strength and internal differentiation structure the genre pairings of some 3 million musicians and groups. Using a range of network-based and statistical techniques, we uncover three musical “complexes,” which are collectively constituted by 16 smaller genre communities. Our analysis shows that the musical universe is not monolithically organized but rather composed of multiple worlds that are differently structured—i.e., uncentered, single-centered, and multi-centered.
For Chicago-ites, this is a “hollow core” finding about musical social worlds. Recommended.
Several writing group colleagues and I were discussing one participant’s extended conference abstract about “prefigurative” groups that have an impact upon society. The author contended that for a variety of reasons – in particular, pressures exerted by the state, most groups are unable to exact larger change. Another colleague suggested looking at studies of the sharing economy, which some might see as a contemporary version of the 1960s-1970s collectivist-democratic organizations.
“Paradoxes of openness and distinction in the sharing economy”
This paper studies four sites from the sharing economy to analyze how class and other forms of inequality operate within this type of economic arrangement. On the basis of interviews and participant observation at a time bank, a food swap, a makerspace and an open-access education site we find considerable evidence of distinguishing practices and the deployment of cultural capital, as understood by Bourdieusian theory. We augment Bourdieu with concepts from relational economic sociology, particularly Zelizer’s “circuits of commerce” and “good matches,” to show how inequality is reproduced within micro-level interactions. We find that the prevalence of distinguishing practices can undermine the relations of exchange and create difficulty completing trades. This results in an inconsistency, which we call the “paradox of openness and distinction,” between actual practice and the sharing economy’s widely articulated goals of openness and equity.
The authors show how class-based stratification can inhibit heterogeneous membership and exchanges, especially when members refuse to make exchanges with persons of lower class. In the time bank, some participants donated their time without drawing back time. They also preferred to volunteer skills that they didn’t use in the workplace, declining to offer desired legal and programming expertise.
The food swapping collective, which arose out of the founders’ desire to decrease food waste among single professionals, is particularly fascinating for its participants’ designation of acceptable vs. unacceptable homemade offerings:
Such research suggests that such sharing economies may be doomed to one-time, never-to-be-repeated exchanges when participants fixated on the parity (or potential status-enhancement) of possible exchanges. While other participants attempted to form community by making exchanges as a matter of practice or as a means of socializing newcomers, it seems these exchanges are not enough to sustain these collectives.
Remember acid rain? For me, it’s one of those vague menaces of childhood, slightly scarier than the gypsy moths that were eating their way across western Pennsylvania but not as bad as the nuclear bombs I expected to fall from the sky at any moment. The 1980s were a great time to be a kid.
The gypsy moths are under control now, and I don’t think my own kids have ever given two thoughts to the possibility of imminent nuclear holocaust. And you don’t hear much about acid rain these days, either.
In the case of acid rain, that’s because we actually fixed it. That’s right, a complex and challenging environmental problem that we got together and came up with a way to solve. And the Acid Rain Program, passed as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, has long been the shining example of how to use emissions trading to successfully and efficiently reduce pollution, and served as an international model for how such programs might be structured.
The idea behind emissions trading is that some regulatory body decides the total emissions level that is acceptable, finds a way to allocate polluters rights to emit some fraction of that total acceptable level, and then allows them to trade those rights with one another. Polluters for whom it is costly to reduce emissions will buy permits from those who can reduce emissions more cheaply. This meets the required emissions level more efficiently than if everyone were simply required to cut emissions to some specified level.
While there have clearly been highly successful examples of such cap-and-trade systems, they have also had their critics. Some of these focus on political viability. The European Emissions Trading System, meant to limit CO2 emissions, issued too many permits—always politically tempting—which has made the system fairly worthless for forcing reductions in emissions.
Others emphasize distributional effects. The whole point of trading is to reduce emissions in places where it is cheap to do so rather than in those where it’s more expensive. But given similar technological costs, a firm may prefer to clean up pollutants in a well-off area with significant political voice rather than a poor, disenfranchised minority neighborhood. Geography has the potential to make the efficient solution particularly inequitable.
These distributional critiques frequently come from outside economics, particularly (though not only) from the environmental justice movement. But in the case of the Acid Rain program, until now no one has shown strong distributional effects. This study found that SO2 was not being concentrated in poor or minority neighborhoods, and this one (h/t Neal Caren) actually found less emissions in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, though more in poorly educated ones.
A recent NBER paper, however, challenges the distributional neutrality of the Acid Raid Program (h/t Dan Hirschman)—but here, it is residents of the Northeast who bear the brunt, rather than poor or minority neighborhoods. It is cheaper, it turns out, to reduce SO2 emissions in the sparsely populated western United States than the densely populated east. So, as intended, more reductions were made in the West, and less in the East.
The problem is that the population is a lot denser in the Northeastern U.S. So while national emissions decreased, more people were exposed to relatively high levels of SO2 and therefore more people died prematurely than would have been the case with the inefficient solution of just mandating an equivalent across-the-board reduction in SO2 levels.
To state it more sharply, while the trading built into the Acid Rain Program saved money, it also killed people, because improvements were mostly made in low-population areas.
This is fairly disappointing news. It also points to what I see as the biggest issue in the cap-and-trade vs. pollution tax debate—that so much depends on precisely how such markets are structured, and if you don’t get the details exactly right (and really, when are the details ever exactly right?), you may either fail to solve the problem you intended to, or create a new one worse than the one you fixed.
Of course pollution taxes are not exempt from political difficulties or unintended consequences either. And as Carl Gershenson pointed out on Twitter, a global, not local, pollutant like CO2 wouldn’t have quite the same set of issues as SO2. And the need to reduce carbon emissions is so serious that honestly I’d get behind any politically viable effort to cut them. But this does seem like one more thumb on the “carbon tax, not cap-and-trade” side of the scale.